Today’s story is worth the journey.
[Romance] [Adventure] • 554,079 words
By royal request, Rainbow Dash, Fluttershy and Rarity travel to far-off Perytonia to establish ties between Equestria and a strange new people.
Plunged deep into an alien culture with its own history, understanding the native peryton is only part of the challenge. As Rainbow Dash discovers, navigating her own relationship with her oldest friend may be harder still.
FROM THE CURATORS: The pressures of weekly deadlines can make us struggle to find the time to commit to longer pieces. So when we spotlight something the size of Tolstoy’s War and Peace — and longer than the sum of every other story we’ve featured this year — it’s a sign that you can look forward to something unique and compelling.
“You want world-building?” AugieDog asked in his nomination. “This creates an entire land and culture from the ground up — several cultures, in fact, since perytons turn out not to be as like-minded as ponies. You want romance? It uses its length to good advantage to nurture its Flutterdash through a fairly slow build, a couple of crashes, and a final reconciliation scene that simply can’t be beat. You want adventure? This has hair-breadth escapes, seemingly haunted ruins, mysterious people and creatures, and lots of walking through forests. Maybe a little too much walking through forests.” All of us commented on the journey’s startling level of detail — and it won Horizon over. “It’s on such a slow burn for such a long time that the few high-energy scenes stand out in much the same way that combat does to a soldier (cue the adage about war being 99% waiting and 1% terror),” he said. “But for all that its pace feels as glacial as Perytonia’s summers feel hot, this story feels alive in a way that stories rarely capture. In making the decision to not gloss over a moment of the journey — showing us the grueling slog of travel — it feels less designed to entertain and more true to life, and it scores points for coming out ahead in that tradeoff.”
Part of that was the way the fic used the lengthy trip as backdrop for breathtaking character work. “The author writes the best Rainbow Dash I’ve seen in a long time, and even at this length, the narrative seldom hits a wrong note,” AugieDog said to unanimous agreement. “I don’t think it’s possible to write Rainbow Dash more true to herself, nuanced, or all-around good as this story does,” Present Perfect said. “Dash’s character is a grand-slam home run, far and away the biggest success To Perytonia has to offer.” And it wasn’t just the narrator. “Characterization in general was fantastic,” Present Perfect added. “Fluttershy’s struggle with Dash pushing her when she needs it; Rarity failing again and again, feeling useless on the road; and let’s not forget how every single Peryton city had at least one unforgettable character for the ponies to interact with. Characters like Mirossa and Neisos jump right off the page; Phoreni is strong and memorable.” Horizon agreed: “All of their peryton contacts are immediately likeable, in their own ways, and I want to see everyone succeed. Ephydoera is worth singling out for positive mention. The Brush Games were a fantastic chapter, full stop.”
And while we each found the story’s slow unfolding (and heavy foreshadowing) simultaneously gripping and frustrating, we also all agreed that what it built up to was worth the effort. “It resolves with some of the absolute best relationship drama I have ever read,” Present Perfect said. “The private jousting scene absolutely made up for all the long stretches of travel, the will-they-won’t-they, the repetition of concerns from the three main characters.” It wasn’t just the romance. “Part of me feels like the ponies have been carrying an idiot ball about peryton culture all story, and most of me is willing to accept that as the price of the ride, because what it does with that single core misunderstanding is pretty amazing,” Horizon said. “The worldbuilding here is nothing short of fantastic. The cultural clash rings as very authentic — the perytons are being endlessly hospitable by their standards, and the ponies are being endlessly friendly by theirs, and every problem comes from the disconnect between their mutual ways of thinking.”
Which perhaps makes it less surprising that after 550,000 words, our biggest struggle was coming to terms with what the story left untold. “At the halfway point, when they were reaching Vauhorn and preparing to head for Cotronna, I was beginning to wonder how the hell this was going to stretch out for another 250K words,” Horizon said. “Then the twist hit, and now I’m a few chapters past where they met Odasthan, and I have no idea what magic Cloudy Skies is going to work to finish this in the 125K they’ve got left!” In hindsight, AugieDog even ended up appreciating those gaps: “This doesn’t give me all the answers, something that usually drives me to gnashing my teeth when it comes to fiction. But the scope of Perytonia makes me not mind the mysteries so much. A world as big and complex as we see here will have questions that just plain linger, and it’ll have murky, partial answers that still feel very, very right.”
Which ultimately was also how we felt about the story itself. “To Perytonia is Cloudy Skies’ magnum opus, and from reading the journals they wrote about it, it came out pretty much the way they wanted it to,” Present Perfect said. “The things they set out to do with the story, they did well, some of them exceedingly well. Half a million words of deep characterization and world-building is no small achievement.”
Read on for our author interview, in which Cloudy Skies discusses stolen soapboxes, advice recursion, and lovely in-betweens.
Give us the standard biography.
I am they who write ponies who fall in love. I wrote my first ever fanfic in S1 on a self-dare whilst giggling madly, and for the next who-knows-how-many years, I’ve sat here in the frozen north writing stories.
How did you come up with your handle/penname?
I genuinely cannot remember! I think it was as simple as “I need a pen/pony name for this.” It’s not the first assumed alias I’ve used, not by a long shot.
Who’s your favorite pony?
Don’t you try that with me. I refuse that question and I don’t play favourites. What I might say is that I’ve sometimes felt compelled to come to certain characters’ defence when others rag on them.
Every time someone says Rainbow Dash is stupid or that Rarity is shallow, I get annoyed. However, calling favourites or marking someone as your “least liked” is silly when the show is about appreciating peoples’ particularities.
Whoops. Someone take this soapbox away from me!
What’s your favorite episode?
“Hurricane Fluttershy” if I can only pick one. That episode inspired more stories from me than any others, though not all of them were published.
The sort of friendship building exhibited in this episode is so my jam. If it had a song with vocals, I’d never stop watching it.
What do you get from the show?
I used to think it was an escape from a complicated world. Its simple lessons, while intended for children, are the kinds of lessons that one is never fully educated on. If becoming a better person was as easy as hearing an idiom once — “don’t judge a book by its cover”, for instance — then we’d all be far more compassionate towards each other. It isn’t, and we aren’t, so we need to hammer it into our heads. It also made me appreciate my friends more.
Most importantly though, the first seasons were pitched by a hardcore feminist, and my perspective on feminism and the feminine were helped by the show not because it contains some sort of magic, but because it made me ask myself some hard questions. It’s been more personally formative for me in ways I don’t have the time or inclination to go into here.
What do you want from life?
I try not to want! Things I want that I cannot have are futile to want. Things I want that I can have, I already have.
That probably makes for a terrible Miss Universe contestant speech though, so let’s go with “to bash the fash.”
Why do you write?
Because I believe the best way for me to spread happiness is by telling stories, and writing is one of the ways in which I do so.
Also because no one else writes the exact kind of stories I like to read these days, so I have to write them myself so that I can re-read my own stories a few years later, delighted and surprised thanks to my terrible memory.
What advice do you have for the authors out there?
The reason everyone says “just start writing” is because it works.
The reason everyone says “the reason everyone says ‘just start writing’ is because it works” is because all other advice is highly personal and there’s a miniscule chance that one person’s methods will benefit another.
However, the reason others ask authors for advice is of course for inspiration, for a kick in the butt. Alright, fine, I’ve convinced me. Have the two greatest writing tips I can muster:
One: Know how your story ends and what its purpose is. You have to know this, and they are linked. A story that has no end has no purpose, and a story that has no purpose needs no end.
Two: If anyone gives you writing advice you don’t like, ignore it. Except the one about “just start writing.” Do that.
What have you been up to since finishing To Perytonia?
I finished my MA thesis, which quite honestly was a lot easier than writing To Perytonia. I’ve also hammered out some 130k words of its sequel, To Demagarra. I’m pretty happy with what I have so far, and it’s fairly likely that I will finish this trilogy some day, but I’m also toying more and more with my older non-pony writings, so who knows!
My personal life has scattered my focus lately though, and I don’t see that changing soon. I’ll be writing again — I’m always writing — but I don’t know what form it’ll take or whether you’ll see it.
What guided your design of the peryton, their land and their cultures?
The peryton themselves were simple. I needed an at-the-time unused species of pseudomythological quadrupeds and Jorge Luis Borges delivered! Once I streamlined them a little to fit with the setting, I had a people who were a little frightening in size and appearance, but ultimately no stranger than griffins except for their mannerisms.
For Perytonia, I started with a Mediterranean climate, but I didn’t want to base the cultures on anything in specific. I tried to create a truly fantastical and unique world that’s very “other” instead of having a place that makes people go “oh so basically it’s MLP Finland.” But then, I also strongly object to thinking of Equestria as inherently “western.”
I can’t claim that Perytonia sprung from nothing, but my point is that the influences are largely subconscious. In fact I steered away when something reminded me of something else. Probably this was a weakness in some cases, bewildering the reader. Others might suggest that maybe that’s a desirable side effect. My lips are sealed.
Why set the story in season 2?
Because I fell in love with FiM in S1 and the further the show went from Faust’s original intent, the less I liked it. Also, S1/2 is a small enough corpus that individual characterisation hasn’t yet become self-contradictory.
I’m not going to belabour the point, and if you like the newer seasons, I’m happy for you, but it’s not for me.
Doing this severely limited my audience, and it’s rarer and weirder than I thought at the time. Then again, I’ve acquired a lot of head-canonical baggage at this point, and sometimes take things for granted that aren’t. The only reason I don’t feel compelled to label all my writings AU is because I’ve seen how far off the beaten path some people go. Compared to that, this stuff is very close to canon I guess?
How would you characterize your approach to writing romance?
The reason why bad romance — even in published form, forget fanfic — is so easy to make fun of is that it’s one-sided at best. There’s a separate issue with how men sometimes write women or vice versa, but my creed is really simple and gender-neutral: If you’re going to write romance, you need to be in love with your subjects, as your subjects.
It’s tough being asked to judge oneself. I don’t know if I succeed in showing this through my work, but I try to inhabit all the actors who love each other, to understand why they love, how they love, and how they express that love. I try to understand that by sharing in that love.
I think my ship/comedy fic Twice as Bright was the first story where, during its writing, I became fully aware of this tactic of mine and fully found harmony with it. Ideally, I want the reader to love all the characters as all the characters by the end, and feel suffused with, well, with love.
“With love.” Those two words are perhaps the abbreviated answer to the question, too.
Why did you decide to present such a large piece of work almost exclusively through a single character’s point of view?
Because it’s been a long time since I’ve done it! That’s the honest answer.
My first long-form adventure, Within and Without, was a limited PoV of Twilight Sparkle and had some scenes that benefited immensely from that focus. I also think my second adventure, Lost and Found, was lesser for its split focus. Thus, in the early stages of planning, I thought back to W&W/O and decided that yeah, I’m going to do that again. I loved the scene in W&W/O where Twi kept falling asleep at the border fort, and much of To Perytonia was me trying to recapture the magical feeling I had whilst writing the former story.
Once I actually started my first draft, I found a host of reasons to keep it going. For someone as fond of never showing their hand as I am, the greater control of information was a boon. It also let me say a lot more about Rainbow Dash. The mammoth length of the story combined with the singular PoV let me present two sides of a drawn-out romance from both an extremely close and an extremely veiled actor.
Is there anything else you’d like to add?
Carry love in your heart, all you beautiful boys, girls and lovely in-betweens. Tell your friends that you love them.
Don’t stay silent in the presence of injustice and hatred.
If your life is darkness right now, all you need to do is hang in there. No matter how much time you spend in the pits, it’s worth it in the end, even if you can’t see that right now. If every day is a battle for you, then every day lived is a battle won and you can wear those scars with pride.